Updated: Feb 21, 2020
Following on from the success of X Factor UK, Simon Cowell started the short-lived American version of the singing competition show. The UK version had put together successful groups such as Little Mix and One Direction, so when Fifth Harmony was created in the second series of the American adaption success was on the cards. However, the group hardly lasted 5 years, received a mixed reception, and came nowhere close to the success of other groups who they were compared to.
There was always something disingenuous about the girls of Fifth Harmony. Ranging from ages 19 to 15 when the group was formed, it never felt like they had a connection. In their first live performance, it was clear that Camila was the star of the show and the rest were basically back-up singers.
Although she wouldn’t admit it, Camila ran the group. In my opinion, Camila was nowhere near the most talented, but she had the look, stage presence, and style that the other girls just didn’t. She always got the best solos, nicest outfits, most interaction with other celebrities, and had the most followers. When she released the banger, I Don’t Know What You Did Last Summer with Shawn Mendes in 2015 before the group had even had the chance to release their second album, the song was a hit and proved that Camila was destined for a career beyond the group. Of course, I wasn’t a fly on the wall during discussions, but watching Camila have a career which the other girls could only dream of must’ve stung and been a source of tension.
The drama around the exit of Camila from the group did not help present the remaining members in a better light. After months of Ally, Dinah, Lauren, and Normani slyly shading their fellow member, a post was posted in December 2016 from the 4 girls stating that they were informed by her manager that Camila would be leaving the group. The girls stated that Camila refused to attend group meetings and therapy sessions. Camila responded stating that the girls were well aware of her looming departure and basically said they were talking shit. The general public was pretty 50/50 on what the truth was but were definitely leaning towards the remaining members being blindsided by Camila’s exit and were innocent in the situation.
That was until they threw a fake version of Camila off the stage at the VMA’s, which was met with negative reactions and the group was branded as petty and bullies. Although this performance was at the end of their career, it did nothing for their last few months as a group and for many people, their final memory of Fifth Harmony is of unnecessarily shady behaviour during one of the biggest performances of their career.
As generic music goes, some of their tracks aren’t bad. Songs such as No Way, Not That Kinda Girl, Body Rock, and He Like That are actually relatively enjoyable. However, they are generic pop songs, there is honestly nothing unique to Fifth Harmony’s sound. This is probably because they were unable to write any of their songs (except for a couple of co-writing credits on their last album). The majority of their tracks were written by big groups of men. Their ‘feminist anthem’ BO$$ was written by a group of 6 songwriters where there was only one woman. My favourite discovery from my research came from their 2016 ‘hit’ All in My Head (Flex) featuring Fetty Wap, which repeats the same verse twice, has 22 songwriter credits. Yes, you heard me right, 22 people are credited for writing “flex time to impress come and lie in my bed”.
From what I can gather, the girls weren't allowed to decide what songs, they were products and were given songs that were guaranteed to be a hit. I’m not saying this is a bad thing, the majority of songs on the radio aren’t written by the artist, but Fifth Harmony seems to be an extreme situation. The girls were singing over-sexualised and generic tracks written by groups of middle-aged men and they look visibly and vocally fed up.
Their record label
Like ex-X Factor acts such as Little Mix and Leona Lewis, Fifth Harmony signed to Syco Music after leaving the talent show. There’s little to no information on what their original contract entailed or what the group endured in their time under their label, but I have to assume it wasn’t good. During multiple interviews the group were asked to advise upcoming artists who may be looking for a record deal, Lauren replied practically every time with “read your contract”, specifically stating in later interviews to have several people read over contracts as had previously had a bad experience (shade at Syco).
An audio clip leaked back in 2016 which featured member Lauren extremely distressed and shouting that they were being treated as “literal slaves” and decisions were being made to “fuck us over” (referring to the group as a whole). There’s no link to when this clip was recorded or what it is about, but I’m assuming that Lauren is referring to the record label overworking the group. As the final nail in the coffin, Lauren wrote in the cover sleeve for the groups final album: “I also want to say a big thank you to all the following staff members at Epic Records (which is the US distributor to Syco) especially the ones who went above and beyond for a project they were told not to”. If that ain’t tea I don’t know what is.
Looking back on all the drama surrounding the group, a lot of it came from the label. They cancelled several tours, booked arenas when there was no chance of selling out (I went to their 7/27 tour date at The SSE Hydro in Glasgow and there was probably 2,000 people in a 15,000 person venue), and failed to fully promote their singles and albums. It almost seemed as though the label wanted the group to fail and use their funds to promote other acts.
In more recent news, this doesn't have a direct relation to Fifth Harmony, but Little Mix left Syco at the end of 2018 days before their album release date. From released statements, Little Mix wanted to release Strip as the lead single of their fifth album LM5, however, Syco demanded Woman Like Me would be released as the primary single, causing tension between the group and the label. Little Mix wanted to go down the R&B route, whereas the label wanted them to stick to generic pop music. Similar issues were mentioned by members of Fifth Harmony who regularly slyly mentioned that they wanted Angel as the lead single to their third album but were left with the generic Down which sounds exactly like their previous hit Work from Home.
After a lot of research and shocking revelations, I feel sorry for Fifth Harmony. The girls were teenagers on the X Factor and grew into young women as their careers progressed which is a major transition to go through in front of the world. In retrospect, most of the problems were out of the girls' hands and their team should be blamed. Fifth Harmony could've been successful; they were all talented, good (ish) dancers, and had the popstar look. However, they never got the chance to reach the heights that they deserved.